As the Samajwadi Party remains bitterly divided, with all eyes on which side Mulayam Singh Yadav will take, two developments could be significant. One, that while Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is believed to be close to Ram Gopal Yadav, he hasn’t uttered a word publicly so far on his uncle’s explusion from the party. Second, that when Shivpal Yadav, who belongs to the other camp, went to Saharanpur and Ghaziabad last Friday, senior state government officials and even many party leaders stayed away.
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Observers say both developments are signs of one picture clearly emerging — that Akhilesh is taking charge of the SP, and that, one way or the other, the main losers in this game would be the uncles.
Senior party leaders also point out that Mulayam is known to play his cards close to his chest, and it would be to assume he doesn’t see that party as well as public support is with Akhilesh, or that Shivpal’s brand of politics now pays less and less. Mulayam’s statement at a press conference on October 25, the day after the public showdown between Akhilesh and Shivpal, was as big a hint as any, they say. Mulayam not only declared that elected MLAs would choose their leader but also said that it was up to Akhilesh to decide who he wants in the Cabinet (this was after Shivpal and his aides were removed from their ministerial berths).
The more Shivpal and Ram Gopal get pushed into a corner, the more space it leaves for Akhilesh to take centrestage — and unencumbered by interference from the uncles. Says a minister in the state government, who is a prominent face of the SP in eastern Uttar Pradesh, “You can call it a chakravyuh, but you will realise it was created to help the Abhimanyu called Akhilesh. Ultimately, Akhilesh will be the only winner.”
With every young leader of the family, including Lok Sabha MPs Dharmendra, Akshay and Tej Pratap Yadav and other youngsters such as Anshul Yadav, throwing his weight behind Akhilesh, Shivpal and Ram Gopal too know it’s a fight for their relevance, add party leaders. “There is very little chance of Ram Gopal returning to the party, at least till the assembly elections,” notes a leader.
Adds another leader, from Etawah, “All youngsters are with Akhilesh. The fact is that Shivpal is facing criticism among young leaders of the family because of his attacks on Akhilesh.”
If Mulayam is still with Shivpal, that also makes political sense. The SP chief knows that between his brother Shivpal and second cousin Ram Gopal, Shivpal poses more of a danger due to the party and ground support he enjoys. By keeping Shivpal close to him, he has virtually ruled out a split from that end.
While Akhilesh celebrated Diwali with Ram Gopal at Saifai, party insiders say the picture is far from rosy. The CM has apparently been uneasy with his uncle since last year over demands for some plum postings in the state government.
The one major card Shivpal holds is the power to distribute assembly poll tickets as president of the state unit of the party. In case of a difference of opinion, though, Mulayam will be the arbiter, and party leaders expect him to eventually take his son’s side.
Over the last one month, as the crisis has been growing, Mulayam’s old friends and well-wishers have also been meeting him and advising him to back Akhilesh at this juncture. Distancing himself from his uncles and the baggage they carry also suits Akhilesh as he projects “vikas ki aandhi (a storm of development)”, in his bid to widen the SP support base. Party leaders give just one example of his stand on reservation to explain this. Last year, the Akhilesh government issued two circulars regarding reservation, objected to by both Dalits and OBCs, which effectively reduced the number of seats available under quota.
Some of his colleagues go as far as to call Akhilesh a “Modi-type” OBC who doesn’t think just about reservation but goes beyond that.
Says a senior leader involved in the bid for patch-up among the family members, “Akhilesh understands well what is the difference between SC, ST, OBC and minority voters, what are their needs, and what is needed to be done for them.”
An SP MLA, however, warns that the reluctance to discuss issues such as reservation could backfire. “Akhilesh is eyeing a new constituency of votes, but the risk is that he might lose his own.”
A few also fear the CM may be repeating the same mistake as made by Atal Bihari Vajpayee (in the 2004 general elections) and Mayawati (the 2012 assembly polls) of letting his coterie convince him of an imminent win.